Sometimes we can’t find the purpose-filled life until we stop looking.
I had never intended to be cooking for a living. I barely knew how to make my own cereal as a teenager. Then once I got the gourmet cuisine of raisin bran and milk under control, it was my diet for the following 10 years, with only one minor adjustment five years in: I switched to almond milk.
I also had been actively trying to figure out what that whole thing called “having purpose in life.” I have constantly been going through this introspective journey. Even as a pre-teen I was constantly confounded as to why I had to be alive and how am I ever going to be happy. I looked mostly inside for the answers to these thoughts. While looking so heavily inward I realized that sometimes the search for purpose can actually dissuade you from actually finding it, that adage that goes something like, “You can’t find what you are looking for until you stop looking for it.”
When I was 14 I had already decided that I was going to drop out of high school. This came from some school supervisor letting me know that I would be able to attend college if I got the golden ticket that came in the form of a General Education Diploma. I spent the next 2 years dozing off, listening to my headphones, and making friends with the school staff and students. They knew I wasn’t sticking around so the school staffing began to accept me as what I was, big headed and ahead of the curve.
The elation that I felt when I was officially allowed to drop out from my small town high school was unimaginable. What was I going to miss? Trigonometry and biology? I’ll pass! Oh boy, the longing I would have for institutionalized guidance came as the hammer of Thor when I decided I actually wanted to learn with a mentor. I quickly found that self-guided learning can be extremely difficult and take enormous amounts of self-control, of which I had nearly none.
When I did finally finish my G.E.D., diploma in hand, I realized that I actually wanted to keep taking my English class. Simply for the reading assignments. I needed stimulation. I had regret for missing all of the ‘important readings’ that my contemporaries had been forced to read read. My regret was rooted in my fear of coming off as publicly stupid. Uneducated. I didn’t know a damn thing about the premise to Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atlas Shrugged, among others.
I decided that I needed to go through and read as many of the classics as I possibly could handle. I got about 4/5’ths of the way through Atlas Shrugged and I couldn’t handle it anymore. 1984 was more my style. It also was not a bludgeoning work out to get to the end of it. Then onto A Brave New World. Dystopian future seemed what I needed because I was working a dead end job.
When I was 20 years old I was laid off of my first full-time factory job. I was more grateful for that happenstance that I probably should have been. I was ecstatic to be done sealing bags of frozen vegetables in a large, loud, cold, dead factory where I felt my sense of purpose slipping away into the despondent cement walls surrounding me. This would be my first, last, and only time that I would willingly work in any factory setting again. The lay off allotted me the space, and the unemployment pay, to figure out what it is that I wanted to do with my life.
I got back into college with no direction and no reason other than a complete and utter lack of mental stimulation in my life. I wanted to be a part of something. I wanted to be surrounded by people with a reason to learn.
The college I decided to attend was not necessarily the place of motivated self-learners. There was a pocket of us. In a school of probably 15,000 I would safely say that there were about 20 people who wanted to be there to become a better person, about 10 who wanted to affect the ecological condition of the planet, 5 who were inspired by Art History, and only One who I wanted to spend every waking minute with talking about these concerns.
When we met I was living in my full time, depending on the week. This was partly out of choice partly out of necessity. I didn’t have much money to spend from my unemployment checks while I was trying to pay off my first car and still get back and forth from school and home without breaking the bank.
As for Her, the one in 15,000 that I got along with? I let her know how I was living. I gave a vague description because I didn’t want to come off as pathetic. Few people understand and embrace my choices and reasoning. I enjoy a little struggle and intrigue in my life and I wasn’t sure if she would find that mildly appealing or acceptable.
When I let her know what I was doing after we went to dinner, sleep in my car at school, she simply asked, “Can I come over too?”
I was completely astounded. She didn’t skip a beat in accepting that part of my life. It was actually embraced with warm ardor. We ended up spending a couple of months living out of that car part time and going to our respective homes when we needed to shower.
I was learning how to be a college student “adult” in the backseat of a 2004 Chevy Cavalier. I did know one thing finally, that whatever it was that I decided on actually pursuing, I wanted her to be there with me. I wanted her there with me for that discovery. To be a part of it.
I wanted her there with me for that discovery. To be a part of it.
She was far more established in her personal careers and in her life experiences. Whereas I didn’t know how little experience that I had until I met her. I had a lot to learn. Spending so much time with a person who sees the world with a larger lens than you can be extremely intimidating and daunting.
I felt the need to speed up my life experience ten-fold to make up for our 6 year age difference. Being 21 is like living on a different planet compared to life in your mid-to-late twenties. I matured, emotionally, faster than most of my age group. I don’t say this to brag, it simply is what happens when you have to raise yourself and talk your parents through their first experiences in adulthood with a wild-child, then a debauchery-addled pre-teen, followed by a drinking and driving 16-year-old, and so forth .
What I later realized was that the space between us was the unplanned life experiences she had for simply being on the earth a little longer than me. Stories take time to accumulate, and sometimes you just need some time to get them. You can’t rush that too much. Although heavy drinking and getting into precarious situations can get you there pretty quickly. Though not always proudly. With the right attitude you can make some amazing stories from it!
This week I realized that I am exactly where I wanted to be. I don’t have the dream job or the farm that I have been dreaming about, but I do have the life experiences that I have been waiting to find. I am where I imagined myself being from that time in my life. I wanted to be a 25-year-old with a couple of good stories to tell. Something I largely lacked 4 or 5 years ago. Something I was not patient enough to understand a few years ago when I decided to go running away from my last relationship. I ran, flew, skated, froze, and cried my way all the way back to New York to figure all of this out. I didn’t realize then that it wasn’t anything between us that didn’t work. I just didn’t know how to work with myself.
While I was searching for something, some reason to believe in life, I ended up stumbling into someone instead. I needed to grow and become a more confident person. I so badly needed to learn that I am someone I would want to spend my time with, that I am not the pile of shit that my self-loathing and negative thoughts were trying to create. I was trying to destroy myself.
It seems to be that while I was searching so intently on a purpose I entirely overlooked the people surrounding me. Those people that would hold my hands while I have been hunting for passions and purpose while. The people that will support my growth in any form that it comes. The connection that a person has created in my life has had a profound effect on the general outlook on my life. Few people want to go at it completely alone.
To have someone who wants to give you the space to find what you love is someone you should hold close, if given the chance. Especially if they will give you the space to explore who you are because they see who you are at your core long before you are allowed to see that person.
Photo: Philippe Put
This originally appeared on DepressiveDusty.